After a summer of upheaval at the club, the Lee Valley Lions started the new season away from home as they faced last season’s fourth placed side and playoff finalists, the Chelmsford Chieftains.
The Lions iced 11 skaters for the game with forwards Tom Hnilica, Nicky Brathwaite and Joe Miller all unavailable. Debuts were handed to James O’Brien, Jordan Sullivan and Joe Trotter; while Michael Jacobs, Joe Berry, Jack Ball and Joe Weare all returned to the club after a varying number of years away. The line-up was completed by player-coach James Joseph, captain Simon Jones, and forwards Ben Gillingham and Ollie Glover – all of whom are staying on from last season. Starting in net was Steve Grout, another returnee after two seasons away, while James Andrew backed up.
The Chieftains iced 12 skaters including former Lions forward TJ Fillery. Starting in goal was Sonny Phillips with another former Lion, James Tipple, backing up for the home side.
1st Period: The Chieftains caught the visiting side cold early on with a couple of goals, first Fillery (1:43, assisted by Ross Brears and Jake Luton) scoring against his former club and then James Ayling (5:45, assisted Brears) doubling the lead. Chelmsford then had a few more chances but Grout in the Lions net made some impressive saves to keep the score at 2-0.
The Lions grew into the period as it progressed, creating a few chances of their own; Joe Berry forced Sonny Phillips into a sharp save and Michael Jacobs shot inches wide from a good position. Unfortunately for the Lions, the Chieftains caught them on the break to go 3-0 up through Ayling (9:52, assisted Bradley Moore and Brears).
Shortly afterwards, the Lions had some 5-on-3 powerplay time with both Fillery and James Dimond in the box, but could not convert. However the Lions grabbed their first goal of both the game and the season a few minutes later as Simon Jones (15:45, assisted Joe Berry) celebrated his first game as club captain with a neat finish, after industrious work behind the Chieftains net by Berry. The remainder of the period was back and forth, with both Berry and Jacobs going close to grabbing another goal, but the period ended with the Chieftains 3-1 up.
2nd Period: The hosts came out energetically in the second period, peppering the Lions net with shot after shot as they looked to extend their lead. Three minutes into the period, that pressure paid off as Bradley Moore (23:00, assisted Ayling and Brears) tucked a rebound home past Grout to make it 4-0.
The Lions then hit penalty trouble – they would take eight minor penalties in the period in total – with both Jack Ball and Ben Gillingham being sent to the penalty box. This gave Chelmsford a 5-on-3 PP that they were able to convert, Courtney Grant (25:30) scoring an unassisted goal to make it 5-1. And with just three seconds left in Gillingham’s penalty, the Chieftains struck again through Charlie Phillips (26:47, assisted Ayling and Brears) who increased the lead to 6-1. This was the end of the night for Grout, who was replaced in the Lions net by James Andrew. Despite conceding six goals, it was a strong performance by the veteran netminder in his first start for over two years.
The Lions took three more penalties in the next five minutes (one against Jordan Sullivan and two against Ball) and, while they were able to kill them off, the effort it took out of the short-benched visitors started to show shortly afterwards as the Chieftains went 7-1 up through a short-handed goal by James Dimond (33:38, assisted Moore).
The Lions impressively killed off a 5-on-3 with both Joe Berry and James O’Brien in the box, however this further wore them out; and it wasn’t a surprise when Chelmsford scored two more goals before the period ended to make it a 9-1 game. Both goals had the same make-up: Brears (assisted Ayling and Will Polston), with one goal coming during a 4-on-4 period of play and the other coming on the powerplay. To make matters worse for the Lions, young blueliner James O’Brien was injured towards the end of the second period and didn’t ice again, leaving the Lions with just ten skaters.
3rd Period: The Chieftains were relentless in the third period, not letting up at all despite the high scoreline and the tiring opposition. Within the first 90 seconds of the period they had added two more goals to go 11-1 up, first Moore (41:02, assisted Brears and C. Phillips) and then Grant (41:25, assisted Fillery and Luton) doing the damage.
Two Chieftains players would then complete hat-tricks within a few minutes of each other as the home side increased the score to 13-1; Grant (46:41, assisted Moore and Dimond) was the first to do so with a shorthanded goal, and Moore (48:52, assisted Brears) followed him not too long afterwards.
The Lions then held out for the next 11 minutes without conceding any more, with James Andrew making some great saves as he tried his best to stop the home side getting any more goals. Cruelly with just 21.2 seconds left in the game, the Chieftains put the icing on the cake with their 14th of the night, Charlie Phillips (59:32, unassisted) smashing a shot past Andrew to complete the scoring. Nonetheless, Andrew was named as Lions’ Man of the Match for stopping 47 of 55 shots he faced, with 37 of those shots coming in the last period alone.
Final Score: Chelmsford Chieftains 14-1 Lee Valley Lions
Period Scores: 3-1/6-0/5-0
Shots: Chelmsford Chieftains 90-16 Lee Valley Lions (26-7/27-4/37-5)
Penalty Minutes: Chelmsford Chieftains 14-20 Lee Valley Lions
Scorers: Chelmsford – Ross Brears 2+7, Bradley Moore 3+3, Courtney Grant 3+2, James Ayling 2+2, Charlie Phillips 2+1, TJ Fillery 1+1, James Dimond 1+1, Will Polston 0+2, Jake Luton 0+2
Lee Valley – Simon Jones 1+0, Joe Berry 0+1
Goaltenders: Chelmsford – Sonny Phillips (31:36 played, 8 shots/1 goal against); James Tipple (28:24 played, 8 shots/0 goals against)
Lee Valley – Steve Grout (27:15 played, 35 shots/6 goals against); James Andrew (32:45 played, 55 shots/8 goals against)
Man of the Match – James Andrew (Lee Valley), Courtney Grant (Chelmsford)